Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala II comes from an old-line family that has been a conservative, powerful part of the Philippine economy for more than two centuries. But with a dashing series of acquisitions and management initiatives, the 41-year-old Harvard University MBA and fitness enthusiast is breathing new life into the old business group.
One example is his success at the family's Globe Telecom, which he has built into a winner in the Philippines' brutal cell-phone wars. Globe had mostly wallowed in losses since its founding in the early 1990s. But last year, it saw profits surge fortyfold, to $22 million on sales of $222 million. New subscribers are signing up at a rate of three per minute, triple last year's pace. Globe now expects to overtake Philippine Long Distance Telecommunications Co., the troubled former monopoly, to become the leader in cell-phone subscribers by the end of the year.
To revive Globe, Zobel de Ayala shook up management, acquired a smaller mobile carrier, created a nationwide digital network, and pushed customers to use prepaid cell-phone cards--thereby eliminating the bad-debt problem plaguing other operators. Most importantly, Zobel launched a wildly popular text-messaging service that has Filipinos sending 18 million messages to one another every day.
Zobel de Ayala also made an important acquisition for the family banking business: He engineered the takeover of Far East Bank & Trust Corp. The purchase, done along with the Development Bank of Singapore, adds to the Ayala group's already powerful Bank of the Philippine Islands. Zobel de Ayala has also been pushing the group to embrace the Internet and bring its telecom, property, and banking operations together online.
When not busy with day-to-day management, Zobel de Ayala is an avid environmentalist. He's a board member of the World Wildlife Fund in the U.S. And--as a snorkeler in a family of divers--he has campaigned to save the Philippines' spectacular coral reefs, imperiled by dynamite, cyanide, and other destructive practices used in fishing. Watch for more bold actions on behalf of his family's centuries-old business.